Monday, 3 December 2012

I get mail.

I have to admit, I am somewhat disappointed with the lack of feedback I get here. My traffic appears moderately healthy, but very few people engage. So when I received an email titled 'AN ATHEIST IN THE WOODS', my pique was raised. No less so because it hailed from the email account of my aunt, whom I shall be visiting in France over the holidays.
An atheist was walking through the woods.
'What majestic trees!''What powerful rivers!''What beautiful animals!'He said to himself.

As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him.

He turned to look. He saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charge towards him. 
He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder & saw that the bear was closing in on him.

He looked over his shoulder again, & the bear was even closer.

He tripped & fell on the ground.

He rolled over to pick himself up but saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw & raising his right paw to strike him. 

At that instant moment, the Atheist cried out: 'Oh my God!'
Time stopped.The bear froze.The forest was silent.

As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky.
'You deny my existence for all these years, teach others I don't exist and even credit creation to cosmic accident.' 'Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament?'
'Am I to count you as a believer?'
The atheist looked directly into the light, and said: 'It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps you could make the BEAR a Christian?'

'Very well', said the voice.
The light went out. The sounds of the forest resumed. And the bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed his head & spoke:

'Lord bless this food, which I am about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ our Lord, Amen.'
I am sure my aunt finds this sort of thing harmless, humorous, perhaps even compelling, but my initial reaction was that this is the single most vile and abhorrent communication I have received in any form and at any point in my life. [Edit: A reviewer on Reddit has made me realise that this is - in fact - not the worst communication I have received. There have been a number of highly offensive comments on social networks. But it is still the most offensive email I can recall.]

Why do I feel this way? Put simply, it reflects the abject disregard Christians have for morality, it demonises and condemns those that have the audacity to  rely on a rational and evidential view of reality and it is presented in a condescending and gut-churningly patronising manner.

Let's examine these aspects a little closer.

The Christian and morality

Christians are often wont to suggest that atheists are moral relativists - as if this is something dreadful in and of itself - but the truth is there are a good number of us that would say that morality is objective, just not divinely so. I do not happen to be one of them, but that is not my point here. In reality, it is the theist that is shackled to moral relativism and not the atheist at all. 

Consider the Deuteronomical references to slavery. It is clear that the Christian God has no qualms with the practice, and accordingly issues decrees on how such a trade should be conducted. So why doesn't the Christian also accept slavery? If objective morality comes from an omnipotent and unchanging God, why would the Christian take such a morally relativistic stance on slavery in abeyance with divine command?

An oft-touted retort is that that was the Old Testament and the New Testament of Jesus Christ is the proper account of morality for Christians, but there are now two relativistic problems to deal with. The first being that an objective moral law-giver must necessarily display that morality changes over time; rendering it relativistic. The second being that even in the New Testament there is no objective prohibition on slavery. So how do modern day Christians give an account for their objection to the practice?

Also, by trying to dismiss this moral aberration by insisting it is a cultural rather than theological phenomenon, and that slavery was very much a part of life in Judea, Galilee, and in the rest of the Roman Empire during New Testament times, but it is not now, one has openly adopted a morally subjective position. Which ever way you pick away at theistically motivated moral objectivism, it always turns out to be subjectivism in a cheap objectivist suit.

So what has all this to do with our ursine-threatened hiker? Well, this is the sort of story that is bandied around by Christians as a teaching in morality. In this case, it would appear that the moral of this story is that the Christian is absolved responsibility for killing non-believers for no other reason than their faith and their nature is the sole arbiter of decency. The obvious problem with this is that the Christian's morality simply doesn't exist in this context; they are nothing more than the whim of the Christian

Is this really what Christians want people to make of their perception of morality? That their faith and character is enough for them to kill their brethren with a clean conscience?

I find that vile.

The Christian and criticism

I have noted over the years that those people or organisations that do not take criticism well, or feel they have a right to operate outside of what is generally held to be common decency, tend to have one thing in common; they have a power base to defend at any cost. Churches are certainly no exception to this rule. Indeed, it might be said it was the notion of religion that initially created the concept. As such, churches - and those aligned with them - are very keen to dismiss any form of criticism.

This story tells us in no uncertain terms that the Christian God not only condemns those that criticise, but uses subterfuge to enforce it. The atheist trusts that this new and unexpected experience of God will be a fair and just  - as his Christian friends and family had assured him God would be - but instead of forgiving him his sins (which He could do at any stage) or receiving any form of mercy, God allows the Christian to kill him.

His crime? Using the so-called God-given faculty of reason and observation to conclude that there was no reason to believe in the Christian God's existence. He would have believed at the end, but apparently not even the death-bed conversion is enough to save one from God's wrath.

I would also like to mention the atheist's use of "Oh, my God!". It is clear that the story would have you believe that the atheist in question - by simple virtue of the fact that he made such an utterance - wasn't really an atheist at all, and that this cry out was a genuine call for the God he believed in all along. 

This is bullshit personified. If you are an atheist, you do not believe in the existence of a god or gods. That is it. There is nothing more to it. It can be restructured or reworded, but so long as the description meets the premise that atheists do not believe in the existence of a god or gods, then atheists do not believe in the existence of a god or gods.

Why would he exclaim such a thing? Well, such is the entrenched insidiousness of theistic thought in our society that we use these terms interchangeably with secular terms. I, for one, try very hard to eradicate such terms from my vocabulary, and I encourage others to do the same. Lest theistic types continue to peddle their hackneyed misrepresentations and have them understood only in their demonstrably incorrect terms.

To summarise, I find the sentiment of this story wholly abhorrent, and so should any person that values human life.

The Christian and condescension and patronisation

More than anything about this story, it is its tone that disturbs me the most. Hahaha, the atheist was foolish and got killed because God is like that. When I mentioned 'gut-churningly patronising' earlier, I am not exaggerating. I have - throughout the curation of this post - been sat sneering at the screen in disgust at my even having to wade through the subject at all.

Why does my aunt think I would get anything from this other than a deep sense of resentment on her part, and the idea that she thinks my demise will be a painful and unmerciless one?

I can see it now. "It's only a joke, Tris. Don't take it so seriously." But it isn't a joke, is it? This is - as I have already stated - a story about morality. About a morality that the believer has faith represents - not a joke - but an objective reality that will befall me for their God's inability to present himself.

Well, fuck that, and fuck your God. He's a monster. Just as well He doesn't exist, eh?


  1. I think it's surprisingly honest. The humor, of course, is that the end is supposed to be a twist. But it's not a twist. Christians honestly think we should die horribly, and that that's a proper Christian thing to want.

  2. Wow. That's just horrible.
    I can't understand how your aunt would think that was appropriate to send you. Were you supposed to read it and say, "Oh! I see now that I was wrong and I now believe in God."? Seriously. I'd have to ask her why she sent that just to see what she would say.

  3. The 'humor' at the end felt more like that awkward moment when the punchline of a joke doesn't deliver.

    Just discovered your page off reddit, will be bookmarking and sharing :)

  4. It is a real shame that we don't get to choose our relatives!


Only Google Accounts accepted for comments.